Monday, December 06, 2004

How to Spot a (Conservative) Ideological Zealot

I opposed the war in Iraq for many reasons. I didn't oppose it on the grounds that we didn't have the right, since the original ceasefire after the first Gulf War required Iraq to live up to the obligations outlined in the UN Security Council resolutions and gave the US the right to re-initiate hostilities if Iraq failed to do so. I didn't oppose it on the grounds that the war was just for oil, since the war could be the right thing to do even if the Bush regime was doing it for the wrong reason. I opposed it because I didn't think it was good idea.

I thought it would turn into a quagmire. It has. I thought Iraq would become a breeding ground for terrorists. It has. I thought it would turn into a huge exercise in nation-building. It has. I thought it would create even more anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world. It has. I thought that going to war would cost America a lot more than not, since Saddam was no friend of terrorists and not about to hand over WMD to them, which has been borne out.

I argued these points with conservatives prior to the war. But they considered my objections to simply be beyond the pale of their black-and-white view of reality. Hatred of America is as bad as it can get in the Islamic world, conservatives said, it can't get any worse. Wrong. Things can always get worse. Iraq won't turn into a quagmire like Vietnam because the Iraqis will see us as liberators. Some will. But it takes only a small segment of the population to decide the US is an invader and start an insurgency that will draw fighters from the entire Islamic world. The war will be quick and painless and therefore we'll be able to set up a new government quickly. No matter how quick and painless the war, the insurgency afterwards is going to be the problem. A war in Iraq won't create any new terrorists because we will be seen as a shining beacon of freedom in the Middle East. But what if Iraqis don't want to be free as we define it? What if many of them think they aren't free if the US forces democracy on them instead of the theocracy they want?

So now, here we are. The objections many of us on the left made to the war have come true. But do the conservatives admit the war was a bad idea? No! Instead, they simply keep changing the criteria for "success."

This where you can spot ideological zealotry. When I told conservatives my predictions of what would happen if we started a war in Iraq before the war, they did not say: "Well, it will be okay if all that happens, because the world will be better off without Saddam Hussein." If they had, then they would be consistent now in making that claim. But rather, they said, "No, that won't happen. It's going to be great." In other words, before the war, they agreed that the outcomes many of the left feared were bad outcomes, but simply denied they would happen.

But then, when those things did come to pass, suddenly conservatives act as if those outcomes are okay. Since they weren't okay before the war, how did they become okay after the war?

Answer: Ideological zealotry. No outcome would have been bad enough that these conservatives would admit the war was a bad idea.

I think conservative ideological zealotry comes in two colors. The first are those who so passionately believed in the war before it began that they are so emotionally attached to it being "the right thing" that they cannot bring themselves to think the war wrong. Second, those who are so attached to their support of the Bush administration that they can't see or won't admit that the Vulcans were wrong and the left correct no matter what happens.

Both have the same ultimate effect, a detaching of consquence from action. An inability to admit that an action that has predictably terrible consequences (after all, many predicted this) was a mistake. A redefining of success in order to make the action a good idea no matter what happens.

When I run into this, I end the conversation with whomever I am talking to. Because that person is an ideological zealot, and thus impervious to truth or fact, having made up his or her mind in defiance of either. I want to concentrate my efforts on those who can still see the truth and on whom good arguments have a chance of working, not those whose minds are made up before the facts are all in.


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